Standing By God’s Elbow


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While doing some reading during a time of convalescence, I came across this delightful quote in Pastor William Gurnall’s helpful book, The Christian in Complete Armor. Gurnall (1616-1679) pastored in Lavenham of Suffolk (northeast of London) for approximately 35 years.

This wise pastor wrote to the dear flock of God among whom he faithfully ministered:

Thou mayst know thou art elect, as surely by a work of grace in thee, as if thou hadst stood by God’s elbow when he writ thy name in the book of life. (96)

Even though his wording may sound quaint to our ears, let us not dismiss the Biblical teaching that remains true in our day. Genuine Christians can know that they truly are God’s children. The book of First John was written for that purpose. Assurance of salvation seems best understood from two perspectives: objective assurance and subjective assurance.

Objective assurance is what we find written in God’s inspired Word. By faith we tenaciously cling to what is written. There are certain truths that describe all those who are God’s elect. It never changes. It remains just the same today in the 21st century as it was in the 17th century during which Gurnall ministered. This focuses on God, what God says about our unchanging relationship with Him.

Subjective assurance is what we possess in our hearts. This, however, may fluctuate from time to time. We may wrestle with our feelings and imaginations. This subjective assurance tends to focus on Self, how we feel about our relationship with God at this present time. But thankfully, changes in subjective assurance do not change objective assurance. To say it another way, objective assurance must guide our subjective assurance. In other words, what is written must govern what is felt.

To be sure, some wrongfully claim subjective assurance of salvation who have no legitimate claim to objective assurance. These pseudo-brothers should not feel secure before God, but some still make the empty claim.

But there is a legitimate aspect to subjective assurance. Peter reminds us that subjective assurance can at times be based on the appropriate evidence of God’s work in our lives. Peter commands us in his second letter, Therefore brothers, make every effort to demonstrate the validity of your call and election, for while doing these things (1:5-7) you will never stumble. (2nd Peter 1:10)

What grace God grants to His children to know that they have eternal life (1st John 5:13)!

Do You Have Biter’s Remorse?



We have all heard about buyer’s remorse. Who among us hasn’t regretted a purchase in a store or from a particular vender? Well, this morning I had biter’s remorse. I picked up a promising slice of cucumber and bit into it, assuming that the refreshing taste of summer would still be there. However, due to a variety of circumstances in the development of that cucumber, it was not pleasant. At all. Biter’s remorse caused me to spit out that cucumber slice.

But have you ever had spiritual biter’s remorse? I think it is safe to say Adam and Eve did in the garden, don’t you? Remember Genesis 3? Blaming someone except themselves. Solomon also describes biter’s remorse in Proverbs 20:17, “Bread gained by deceit tastes sweet to a person, but afterward his mouth is filled with gravel.” (NET) Judas experienced this in Matthew 27:23, “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was full of remorse and returned the 30 pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders.” (CSBO)

Or that temptation we bit into recently that promised to be so satisfying, only to find our soul filled with remorse. Remember James 1:14-15? What once appeared so promising turned out to be harmful to us. The mood set by neon lights and dazzling sounds changed so rapidly once we took our first bite. “How could I have been so foolish?” we lament. “What was I thinking?” are words of regret I have often heard as a pastor. “How could a relationship with that other woman have appeared so attractive if I had been thinking Biblically about my wife?” “Why did I allow those thoughts of anticipated pleasure from sexual immorality to override what I know was right before God?” “Why did I as a unmarried Christian young woman allow that young man to do what he did to me for the now-broken promise of his love? What was I thinking?”

Remorse. Regret. But, in and of itself, this is not genuine repentance, is it? I will try another cucumber, most likely. I won’t let one bad experience change that. This spiritual biter’s remorse is little more than a self-centered dread of the consequences for what I have done. It was unpleasant, sure. It didn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, true. I wish that what has been done could be undone.  But still there is no true change of heart.

Genuine repentance leads to a forsaking of the sin. This repentance is brought about by a change of heart caused by the Spirit of God. Read Second Corinthians 7:9-12. This is not biter’s remorse. It is God-honoring repentance to the glory of His name.

A Pastor’s Anxiety


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We have a tendency to evaluate all anxiety as being sinful. And I would generally agree with that evaluation. However, there is some anxiety that is Biblically appropriate because it focuses on God and His people. Let me explain how the Bible displays this type of anxiety in a good light.

First, remember Paul’s words to the Galatian Christians in 4:20. He writes, “I am perplexed [aporeo Strong's # 639] about you.” We are reminded of the word picture indicating that we have reached the bank of the river and are unable to find the fording place. We are at a loss as to what to do next. We don’t know how to proceed in this situation. This uncertainty unsettles us, perplexes and disquiets us. There is no hint of sin at this stage. In fact, this sort of occasion can be healthy for us because it encourages us to turn to the only wise God for guidance. (cf. Proverbs 3:5-6; Romans 16:27; 1st Timothy 1:17; Jude 1:25) You may want to look at the other uses of this verb (cf. John 13:22; Acts 25:20; and 2nd Corinthians 4:8) and the noun [aporia # 640] (cf. Luke 21:25).

Second, Paul reminds the Corinthian believers of his concern for all the congregations he has worked with (2nd Corinthians 11:28). Here Paul utilizes a Greek word for concern [merimna # 3308]. You’ll recognize from the context that Paul is detailing indicators of his loving concern. Look at what he experienced while ministering to them. This is not sinful apprehensiveness, but appropriate concern for those we love. Sinful worry tends to focus on future possibilities of danger or misfortune. Legitimate concern knows that potential dangers exist and is concerned for those loved ones who may experience these potential dangers. Appropriate concern is referred to in 1st Corinthians 7:32-34. Sinful worry is condemned in Matthew 6:25ff and Philippians 4:6.

So, can pastors have legitimate anxiety for the flock among which they minister? Yes. Thank God that your pastor genuinely cares about the flock. Pray for your pastor that this anxiety will not shift over into the realm of sinful worry. Legitimate anxiety turns in faith to the omnipotent God, who works all things after the counsel of His will (cf. Ephesians 1:11). Sinful worry turns to the impotent resources of self.

Oh, I Didn’t Know That


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How many times have you found yourself saying/thinking, “Oh, I didn’t know that”? You had arrived at a conclusion regarding something/someone and upon getting more information, you said/thought, “Oh, I didn’t know that. Had I known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have made the decision I made.” Can you say, “Buyer’s remorse”?

Someone once said that one of the most used words in heaven will be, “Oh ….” We don’t fully understand in the here and now what God is doing. But when we get to heaven He may reveal more details to us. We have whined and complained, we have doubted and feared, we have questioned or thought something too difficult. But when we arrive in His presence, we will probably say, “Oh, I didn’t know that. That makes sense now.” His wisdom is infinite, ours is not. See Psalm 147:5; Romans 11:33.

We do a similar thing in our evaluations of people and their circumstances. We arrive at a conclusion concerning someone, only later to learn something new. “Oh, I didn’t know that earlier.” We commend or else criticize people for a decision they made. Later, once we have more information, we say, “Oh, had I known that, I would have made a different decision.” Too often our commendations prove faulty. Too often are criticisms prove unfounded.

Will we humble ourselves and admit that we have been wrong in our judgments? Will we acknowledge the foolishness and disgrace associated with our attitudes and actions and seek forgiveness from those who have prematurely judged? Remember Proverbs 18:13, “The one who gives an answer before he listens, it is foolishness and disgrace to him.

Buyer’s remorse occurs when the true character of an unqualified pastor or deacon is revealed in time. It takes place when we eventually learn the true nature of someone we initially thought trustworthy. It occurs when we finally learn the background as to why someone in leadership made a decision with which we initially disagreed. How easy it is make a hasty commendation or condemnation.

May God grant us grace to make sober judgments. Sober-mindedness is not only beneficial, it is a necessity.

The Danger of Hypocrisy


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Pastor Stephen Davey, in his helpful book In Pursuit of Prodigals, wrote the following:

The truth is that hypocrisy in the pew is nowhere near as destructive and discouraging to a church as hypocrisy in the pulpit. (61)

Davey recounts the story of the Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531).

In 1529, Ulrich Zwingli compromised his earlier pattern of discipline and refused to practice it any longer after his church became a member of the reformed State Church in Zurich. He change his view because, as he warned, the practice of discipline and excommunication toward unrepentant sinners “would cost too many preachers.” So in reality, sinful pastors would need to be dismissed and the Church couldn’t afford to lost them.

God’s Word would say otherwise. The Church actually cannot afford to keep them! (60)

Thank you, Pastor Davey, for this strong reminder.

Distracted by an Ecclesiastical Mirage?


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A mirage is a curious thing, is it not? It makes a shimmering promise to our imagination, but in reality it only delivers emptiness. So why use this term in relationship to churches? Because there are people who relate to local churches the way some people relate to mirages.

Mirages are deceptive distortions. They are not real! (do I really need to tell you that?) They have no substance. There are many churches today that are theological distortions of what the Bible actually teaches. “But they used the Bible, at first.” They appear to be something that they are not. They are illusory. How many people have found only dry sand where a lake seemed to appear at a distance? Or how many at sea found only more water where a mirage once promised an island? There are many churches that promise to be a place where people can worship God, but in reality they deliver something quite different to the attenders. Worship may be promised, but entertainment (or something even worse) is delivered. “But it seemed so ‘on fire for God,’ at first.” So it seemed.

Mirages are disappointing. I once heard an account of some professing believers from one established church who were so fascinated with an ecclesiastical mirage that they left en masse for a start up church. It wasn’t too long before they began to question, “What have we done? This isn’t what we thought it would be. Why did we leave the last church in the first place?” More hot dry sand is not as refreshing as the shimmering promise of fresh water, is it?

Mirages can be distracting. Some people have traveled great distances to get to where a mirage seemed to be located, only to find themselves miles off course from their original path. There are many families that have been led astray by an ecclesiastical mirage, only to find themselves shamefaced for being led far astray from Biblical teaching. “But it seemed like such a good church, at first.” The time and effort wasted chasing a mirage is little different than the man driving furiously as he chases the ever-elusive end of the rainbow.

The word mirage may be a early 1800’s French term borrowed from Latin, but there is no doubt that it is a concept that has been around for a long time. How many times are New Testament believers warned about spiritual deception? Consider 1st Corinthians 6:9; 15:33; 2nd Corinthians 11:3; Galatians 6:7; 2nd Timothy 3:13; Titus 3:3; James 1:16; 1st John 1:8; 2:26; 3:7.

Don’t be one of these people who attempt to embrace a shimmering theological or ecclesiastical mirage and end up off course and in danger. Cling to the absolute of God’s Word. Hold fast to True Truth, as Francis Schaeffer used to say. It will never disappoint. In fact it is a command. “But examine all things; hold fast to [the teaching that] is good; keep away from every form of evil [teaching].” (1st Thessalonians 5:21-22)

When You Don’t Feel Connected At Church


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Came across a helpful post this AM on connectedness and the local church. You can read it here. There are some very helpful ideas.

Someone once said, in a similar vein, that having interest in one’s church is like having interest in a savings account. You need to put something into it to get something out of it. If you are simply looking to get something rather than to give something, you clearly have the wrong idea. A Biblical church rightly deserves involvement. As the linked post points out, that involvement includes, but is not limited to:

  • Biblical stewardship of time–faithful attendance (Acts 2:42)
  • Biblical stewardship of money–faithful giving (2nd Corinthians 8:1-5)
  • Biblical practice of prayer–faithfully agonizing in prayer (Acts 1:14; 2:42; Romans 12:12; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2, 12)
  • Biblical practice of fellowship (Acts 2:42)
  • Biblical practice of hospitality (Acts 2:46)

Do some research on the use of the verb proskartereo [# 4342] and its derivative proskarteresis [# 4343]. It will serve you well. Deliberately strive to make the connection you claim to long for. And be thankful that your own body parts don’t treat the rest of your physical body the way you treat the spiritual body of Christ!

Don’t Treat Your Pastor Like a Slice of Bread



Came across this illustration recently in a different context than church, but the sentiment is the same. You treat someone like a slice of bread when you try to butter them up! It’s also called flattery. Consider Proverbs 26:28, “A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (NKJ) See also Proverbs 29:5, “A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.” (NKJ)

One church I attended had social times after their services at which the women of the church would serve heavily buttered bread. My siblings and I still refer to these as “_______ sandwiches” in honor of that particular church. They consisted of a slice of bread spread with a thick layer of butter, over which was spread another layer of butter, which in turn was topped with yet another layer of butter. Yum! Butter was cheaper in those days.

Over the years I have been “buttered” by a variety of people, but probably no more so than by one particular family (who will remain anonymous). Sadly, while they buttered the bread publicly with one hand, they worked hard at privately scraping what they perceived as burnt toast with the other. You understand, I think. The mushy compliments that flowed on Sunday after the sermon were certainly spread on thick, sometimes with tears in their eyes and on their cheeks. Yet I soon began to realize that it was not butter that was being spread. Years later I came to learn that the family would spread it on thick after the service, but once they got home would scrape it off and tear me to shreds in front of their children. No wonder their children exhibited the attitudes they did.

By all means, it is not wrong to compliment your pastor. Express your gratitude in a Godward manner. Encourage him in a God-centered way. But do him and yourself a favor; be sincere when you talk with him. Don’t lie to him about your response to what you just heard. A Biblically appropriate compliment can be a great complement to a life transformed by the power of God’s Spirit using the Word of God for the glory of God and for the good of God’s people. Don’t treat your pastor like a slice of bread.

Lessons on marriage from the book of Ruth



We have enjoyed our journey through the book of Ruth during our congregation’s midweek service. One of the helpful things we have learned is the word picture for marriage as described in 1:9 and 3:1.

Consider Ruth 1:9. Naomi has lost her husband and both her sons (1:1-5). Most are familiar with that aspect of the story. In 1:6-8 she strongly encourages her two Moabite daughters=in-law to return to their respective mother’s house, praying especially that Yahweh will demonstrate loyal-mercy to them (1:8). In 1:9 she prays again that Yahweh will grant each of these young widows to find what? She longs for them to find rest or security in the house of a husband. The key word here is rest/security.

The root of the Hebrew word menuchah [# 4496] refers to quietness with a sense of security. A calm and soothing place to land, in other words. Remember when God’s ark in which Noah was spared came to rest on the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4). Remember also that the dove could find no resting place (Genesis 8:9). Think of the calm waters by which the Shepherd leads His flock (Psalm 23:1). Is this what your home is like? That’s apparently what Naomi thought of when she thought of a home. What a blessing her God had given to her through her husband Elimelech. She wants that for these Moabite daughters-in-law.

But see also Ruth 3:1. As Naomi planned to resolve their situation, she asked Ruth the rhetorical question, “Shall I not seek rest/security for you, that it may be well with you?” She longs for Ruth to experience the type of marriage relationship she enjoyed with Elimelech. Apart from the hustle and bustle of life, her home was a place of quietness and calm. A place of serenity and repose. Is this what your home is like?

I have been blessed by God with a restful home. My dear wife has graciously endured my idiosyncrasies for nearly 35 years. I have always considered our home a refuge, a place of safety apart from the battles of life and ministry. I weep for those pastors and deacons whose homes are anything but a place of quietness.

I remember hearing one deacon freely admit, “My wife and I fight all the time. We argue in front of the kids regularly.” This ought not to be. Or the pastor’s home in which the children regularly run for cover because Dad is home again and the fireworks with Mom are about to begin. They run for cover to their rooms, or else hide behind books or computer/TV screens hoping to avoid the fallout from what is taking place in the kitchen or at the dining room table. Hopefully it won’t spill over onto them this time.

Our homes should be a sheltering refuge where our family members can calmly roost with a sense of tranquility and security. Perhaps this is part of the reason why God urges Christian wives to have a unassuming and tranquil heart (1st Peter 3:4). A wife’s attitude is so crucial to establishing the atmosphere in the home. This, however, does not eliminate the need for the husband to do his part to ensure tranquility in the home (Philippians 4:6-9). It is a two-way street in which both are responsible.

Is your home a place of comforting rest?

When Human Effort is Not Sinful



There is a portion of contemporary Christianity that claims it is sinful for a Christian to attempt to do anything in their sanctification or ministry. All human effort is sinful. It is, they claim, Jesus plus nothing. Now, it sounds very pious and mature, but the real question is: is it Biblical? The answer is a resounding, No! Consider the following passages of Scripture.

 Jesus tells us, “Exert every effort [agonizomai] to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” (Luke 13:24, NET)

Paul says, “Each competitor [agonizomai] must exercise self-control in everything. They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. (1st Corinthians 9:25, NET)

Again Paul says, “Toward this goal I also labor, struggling [agonizomai] according to his power that powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:29, NET)

Epaphras is commended by Paul when he writes, “Epaphras, who is one of you and a slave of Christ, greets you. He is always struggling [agonizomai] in prayer on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.” (Colossians 4:12, NET)

Timothy is commended to exert human effort when Paul writes, “Compete well [agonizomai] for the faith and lay hold of that eternal life you were called for and made your good confession for in the presence of many witnesses.” (1st Timothy 6:12, NET)

Near the end of his life, Paul writes, “I have competed [agonizomai] well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith!” (2nd Timothy 4:7, NET)

It is assumed Christians struggle against sin, “You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle [antagonizomai] against sin.” (Hebrews 12:4, NET)

Jude, Jesus’ half-brother, writes to his readers, “Dear friends, although I have been eager to write to you about our common salvation, I now feel compelled instead to write to encourage you to contend earnestly [epagonizomai] for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 1:3, NET)

So, the next time some perhaps well-intentioned Christian tells you to “Let go and let God,” remind them of these verses. Cling to these verses, because we are not only commanded to exert ourselves in the Christian life, we are commended for doing so. Didn’t Jesus Himself say that the time will eventually come when the words “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matthew 25:21, 23) will be spoken?


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